With I-1366 Ruled Unconstitutional, It’s Time for Lawmakers to Focus on Improving Schools

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With I-1366 Ruled Unconstitutional, It’s Time for Lawmakers to Focus on Improving Schools

By - January 21, 2016

Now that Tim Eyman’s harmful Initiative 1366 has been struck down by the King County Superior Court for violating the state constitution, lawmakers should put this damaging distraction behind them and focus on improving schools and ensuring that all Washingtonians have opportunities to thrive. 

Judge William Downing found that I-1366 – a law designed to force lawmakers into amending the state constitution to require a two-thirds “supermajority” legislative vote or a vote of the people to enact a tax increase of any size – violates the state constitution in multiple ways. His ruling invalidates the law, which voters passed by a narrow margin in a November 2015 election that had an especially low turnout (only 38 percent of registered voters cast ballots), in its entirety. As such, he spared lawmakers from having to grapple with the toxic choice it foisted upon them.  

Eyman has indicated that he will appeal the ruling to the State Supreme Court. However, Judge Downing found the measure to be invalid on all three counts put forward by the plaintiffs – illegally strong-arming the people’s representatives into amending the state constitution under threat of an enormous reduction in revenues; putting multiple, unrelated subjects in the initiative; and binding the hands of future legislatures. Such a thorough repudiation means it’s highly unlikely that the Supreme Court will bring the measure back to life. 

That’s good news for Washington state. The supermajority amendment included in I-1366 would have given all power over state tax and investment policies to a small minority of lawmakers and corporate lobbyists opposed to important investments in schools, public safety, and other building blocks of a thriving economy. What’s more, if lawmakers had failed to muster the two-thirds vote required to pass the constitutional amendment required under I-1366, the state sales tax rate would have automatically fallen to 5.5 percent from 6.5 percent in April. That would have drained $1.4 billion annually from vital state revenues that support our economy and people. In short, I-1366 would have made it virtually impossible for lawmakers to come up with the billions of additional dollars required by the Supreme Court in the McCleary decision to improve Washington’s schools.   

As Judge Downing wrote:

“Even if the 2016 legislature were not facing a daunting and immediate challenge to solve the school funding crisis, the prospect of a severe budget cut to take effect in April…would greatly impede the intended deliberative process; in operative reality, it renders it an impossibility.”

The court’s ruling makes it abundantly clear that I-1366 is unconstitutional. The measure has been thoroughly invalidated, meaning lawmakers need not waste any more time on preparing to implement it. Instead, they should focus on building a state revenue system capable of amply funding good schools and other investments that will help kids, families, workers, and seniors succeed in the 21st century economy.

For more analysis on what the I-1366 decision means for our state budget and the legislature, save the date for our Budget Beat webinar on Friday, January 29, at 11 a.m. It will feature Budget & Policy Center Associate Director of Fiscal Policy Andy Nicholas and Pacifica Law Group Partner Kymberly Evanson – who represented the plaintiffs on both the pre- and the post-election challenges against I-1366.

About Andy Nicholas, Associate Director of Fiscal Policy

Andy specializes in state budget and tax policy. Since joining the Budget & Policy Center in 2009, he has served on a Legislative Task Force on Tax Preference Reform and has conducted numerous analyses of Washington state’s tax code.

Read more about Andy